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Shaking up and making up China: how the party-state compromises and creates ontological security for its subjects

Abstract

A growing chorus of observers has warned of threats to regime stability in China in recent years. In spite of these concerns, the party-state’s grip on power in many respects appears as strong today as at any time since 1989, making it a remarkable outlier in a shrinking pool of long-surviving authoritarian regimes. This article addresses the debate over the resilience of the Chinese party-state by suggesting that one source of this resilience lies in the regime’s distinct functions in citizens’ experience of ontological security. Ontological security refers to a basic need of individuals for a sense of continuity and order in events. The main argument is that  China’s party-state has developed a mode of rule that both compromises and creates ontological security for its citizens. On one level, the party-state undermines individuals’ ontological security. The regime has engineered profound transformations of Chinese society, producing conditions that compromise its subjects’ ontological security. At the same time, the party-state provides individuals with resources to buttress their ontological security. Official discourses function as anchors that assist individuals in this pursuit. A survey of research on Chinese politics supports these conclusions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I owe this insight to Jennifer Mitzen and Catarina Kinnvall.

  2. 2.

    I owe the use of this term in this context to the late great Samuel J. Noumoff.

  3. 3.

    In this context, ‘the masses’ refers to party non-members.

  4. 4.

    I thank an anonymous reviewer for raising this point.

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Krolikowski, A. Shaking up and making up China: how the party-state compromises and creates ontological security for its subjects. J Int Relat Dev 21, 909–933 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41268-018-0138-0

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Keywords

  • China
  • Ontological security
  • Authoritarianism
  • Regime stability
  • Political transition